Hassan Al-Khaja 22, Emirati/Irish, student
‘My family has been in the area for close to 400 years now. My grand- father’s almost 80 and he’s never left the country, and my father went abroad to study but came back as soon as he completed his masters; I was five at the time. I grew up in Deira, and I really miss that version of Dubai.
It was a different time: the area was full of local people and the lifestyle was so strong. Now Deira has become something else entirely. I used to love playing football on the street with the other kids. When I was younger we’d visit Jumeirah Beach once a week for a family outing, and I used to go to Al-Ghurair Centre to play at the arcade. ‘It was definitely cheaper back then, but, thinking about Deira specifically, I think it’s one of the few areas where prices haven’t fluctuated over the years. My family owns property in Deira so we’re well aware of how the real estate has evolved over time.
‘Overall, the changes in Dubai have been a positive step forward. I look at this city, this country, and I feel proud. It’s a mix of culture and it has become a big name in the world now. People claim that local culture is dying out because of that, but personally I feel the culture whenever I visit my grandfather and my paternal family. The expats just need to look around more to find remaining bits of old Dubai.
‘Emiratis are a strong minority, with great leaders. It’s the vision of those leaders that has made the city what it is today. Dubai will always be a place for everyone, it was back then, and it is right now, but the local members of a country are never forgotten. It’s a city that has evolved and grown, but I think, besides traffic, it’s all positive.’
Shahabudeen Ansari 32, Iranian, owner of Special Ostadi Restaurant
‘My father moved here when he was nine years old, in 1942. I was born and brought up here. My father still has the original UAE passport and my brother has the citizenship. Dubai is and always will be home. We’re Iranian, but this city has given us our life today.
‘Remembering old Dubai I think back to a small city. Everything was close by. I could easily walk to places and be at work in 15 minutes. Today, an hour and a half on the road is common. Around the area everyone used to know everybody else. That is one thing that has faded as the city has grown. But, I’m lucky, because thanks to my father’s restaurant, Special Ostadi, I meet with customers and people I’ve known since my childhood frequently.
‘In the past, entertainment was a simple thing. I used to spend time with my friends, go over to their houses and they’d come over to mine. We liked spending time on Diyafah Street; it’s changed quite a bit since I was a child. It wasn’t expensive to go out – which is one of the few problems today. Salaries have remained what they were but outgoings have grown. I remember I could go to the Co-Operative for groceries and buy a month’s worth of household needs for Dhs200; today Dhs1,000 isn’t enough at Centre Point. We even had to double prices in our restaurant.
But these changes have given Dubai the popularity it has now. When I look at my daughter growing up in this city I remember my own childhood and I believe she is lucky. She is gaining a lot from new Dubai, but I will ensure that the things I had in old Dubai – the family feel, the simple living, and the happiness – will all be things she gains as well.’
Lajo Gupta 55, Indian, writer/author/music critic
We moved here 32 years ago after living in San Francisco. I was dragged kicking and screaming, but then fell in love with the place. The city had a wonderful traditional Arabic character that was tolerant of other religions and was impeccably maintained. People followed a certain protocol – even drivers. We lived in Deira near Dubai Cinema and we never locked our cars or houses. You knew no one would walk in and take anything. And it was wonderful to see the ocean whenever you drove through Dubai.
‘I had two jobs: as a travel agent and as a flower arranger at the Airport Méridien. We came here because my husband was setting up a factory. He started out at my brother-in-law’s factory in Rashidiya before setting up his own factory at Jebel Ali Free Zone in 1986. We moved up to Jebel Ali Village at that time and it was the happiest community in the world – we all knew each other, we swapped pies and cakes and looked after each other’s kids and cats.
‘Economic growth back then was slower. Sure, everyone came to make money and have a better quality of life, but it was steady growth and it was possible to save.
‘Entertainment wasn’t a problem. The Metropolitan Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road and Ramada in Bur Dubai both had great Chinese restaurants. Then there was Pancho Villas at the Astoria Hotel, Al Nasr Leisureland for entertaining the kids. You could get away to the Sandy Beach Hotel at Fujairah and the Hatta Fort and Jebel Ali hotels. We’d also have barbecues at Chicago Beach, where the Madinat Jumeirah is now. The sudden influx of all these people has certainly changed things. Wonderful things have happened – better media, better TV programmes… I could go on, but somehow I miss the old culture. There was a club opposite Za’abeel Palace where people could meet [His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum] and his sons. You’d see the rulers around. It is a lot more impersonal now.
Over the past few years it has all been about economics. The lesson is that easy money never lasts, that’s the metaphysical law. What one works hard to earn in the right way stays for longer. Also it’s good if we become more frugal, we’re facing an ecological crisis and we need to consume less. I’m already seeing people being more creative again. We are re-learning to entertain ourselves; you see friendships strengthened.
Can you ever really belong here? If you run a business and run it well you can stay as long as you want. And being able to buy a house was a big thing for a lot of people. Ultimately, you get out of life what you put into it. I’m very loyal to the place after 30 years and I try to put something back in every way I can.’
Phil Ellerby 55, British, managing director
‘Dubai’s Ski Club – or Dubai Water Sport Association, DWSA – was the hub of social life in Dubai during the ’80s, with 250 members at its height. It was founded with 23 people in 1979. We didn’t have a clubhouse at the time, just a barasti shelter on the beach. Then, with the help of local architects and builders, we created our own place. There weren’t many hotels or clubs at the time, so it was really innovative. The opening took place on May 19 1981, when His Highness Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum cut the ceremonial ribbon.
We used to waterski every day on the Creek, from dawn until dusk if we wanted. The water was so flat – we had some of the best conditions in the world. Although we called ourselves a Water Sport Association, our main focus was waterskiing. We used to hold an annual Gulf Waterskiing Championship, which attracted competitors from Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait, as well as resident Dubai skiers. Members were initially mainly western, but then in 1982 UAE Nationals started to ski and Saeed Rashid al Shaali won the Gulf title.
‘In 1983, we held the UAE’s first ever rock concert, called RamRock, with local bands. The place was rammed. The second year we invited an international act – Showaddywaddy.
‘Unfortunately, in 2006 the club was served an eviction notice by the Dubai Municipality. The land was needed for a development and we were barred from waterskiing from our location. Our clubhouse was bulldozed. The land remains undeveloped. It’s one of the saddest things that’s ever happened here, I believe.’